All Our Exploring
Notes: Spander Inquisition entry. Written for elenabtvs who wanted threats and an acknowledgement of past relationships. The poetry quoted is from T.S. Eliot's Whispers of Immortality and Paul Muldoon's The Princess and the Pea.
"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding.
The hotel room in Cairo looked just like the one where he'd stayed in Kenya, and was almost identical to the temporary Casa de Xander in Johannesburg. Giles had suggested the Council could afford to spring for a classier place, or rent an apartment, but Xander was getting good at picking the hotels that were just the way he wanted. No view, unless it was of an equally shabby hotel across the street. No room service, no mints on the pillow, although he wouldn't say no to a mini-bar. He'd say yes to the mini-bar, in fact. Yes, come into my room, bring all your miniature but perfectly formed friends…
The Egypt place even came with an extra-special bonus feature, a couple in the room above his who got in a solid couple of hours a day just yelling at one another. Sometimes he heard the smash of breaking furniture and a cloud of plaster drifted slowly down. Give him a fifteen-year-old creaking dryer and a neutered vamp tied to a chair and it'd be home sweet home.
Anya would have hated this place.
That was kind of the point.
The Egyptian slayer didn't speak any English. Xander had never thought about what language was spoken in Egypt, but when he was put under pressure he wasn't so bad at adapting. He could say 'destiny', 'vampires' and 'chosen' in about a dozen African languages and 'May the force be with you' in ten more (he reminded himself to talk to Giles about Andrew doing the phrase books).
Yeah, if the teaching faculty of Sunnydale High could see him now… they'd probably wonder first about the eye, and second about how they were suddenly back from the dead. Or the other way around. But after that, they'd be impressed at his transformation into language-man.
He remembered Willow in braids and knee socks passing notes beneath the table to help him get through Spanish. Jesse and his weird knack for picking up snatches of foreign languages, and how in fourth grade he'd solemnly told Mrs. Stevens that she had an ass the size of Minsk. Probably would've gotten away without that week's detention if he'd known she spoke fluent Russian.
He thought about all the stuff Giles had said right after Sunnydale. Remember the past but don't wallow there, mourn the dead but don't get buried in grief - Willow had slipped her hand into Kennedy's and nodded, and Buffy had stared stonily at the ground, and Xander had launched into a stream of nervous patter filled with dumb jokes he didn't remember any more, because Anya was going to open the motel room door any second and say something loud and inappropriate about whether they were having a crazed sex-orgy.
A year on and it was better. His head didn't shoot up any more when a door opened, and he didn't wake up expecting her to be there. He didn't talk to her, like he sometimes had those first weeks, because An was too smart to be doing the Patrick Swayze thing. She was off somewhere on a cloud complaining that the Birkenstocks made her ankles look fat, or bullying the guy in charge into letting her open heaven's first gift shop.
Didn't make the hurt totally go away, but it helped. His work was good, too. He tracked down the slayers, talked to the families, bandaged himself up, talked to them again, finally persuaded them to send their daughter thousands of miles away to school. This was his sixth girl and he was seriously getting the groove of the roving Watcher gig. Less than a month to track her down, and her dad's punch hadn't even connected. Another week or so and she'd be ready to go to England, and he'd be moving on. New city, new slayer and, if he could help it, same dull and featureless rooms.
He was letting himself into his room, ready to call Watcher HQ and turn in for the night, when he heard raised voices above. God, usually they didn't start for at least another half hour. Mom, dad, shut up, he thought.
The voices were coming closer. His room was at the end of the hall, next to the stairway, so his first look at his neighbours was feet-first. The woman - it had to be the woman, no man on Earth had legs like that - was wearing some sort of skintight catsuit, dark leather, that made him fumble his key in surprise and appreciation. When he gracelessly retrieved it from the floor she was standing at the bottom of the stairs glaring up at her partner. Her hair was long and dark with electric blue streaks in front and a dusting of the same colour across her forehead that made Xander relieved that Anya had never tried this particular dye experiment.
"You purposely dawdle so I will be delayed," she snapped. Her head whipped around and she coolly looked Xander over. He raised his hand. She turned away, dismissing him.
Odd, jerky movements, eyes that were definitely not human. Either a Warren Junior was turning out androids or he'd had a demon in his hotel for weeks and not known. Okay, he had to think about this. Axes were in the box beneath the bed. He had to call Giles first, find out what kind of demon liked blue and hated cows and if she was dangerous he had to go Jack Torrance on her ass. No, he realized, if she was a demon then her boyfriend probably was too. Recon was needed, then. He pretended to be having trouble with his door as the second figure bounded down the stairs.
"Keep your hair on. City's been standing four thousand years, not gonna vanish into the sand if we're five seconds late."
The woman started arguing that five seconds could be as an eternity to her - or was it that an eternity could be like five seconds? Xander couldn't say for sure. He was too busy staring at Spike.
It had to be Spike. He hadn't even changed his clothes, and Xander thought that he could pick that accent out of even a very British line-up. The hair was different, wavy and a shade lighter than Xander's and only white at the tips, but - it was Spike. Here. Somehow not lying in ash at the bottom of a crater.
"The one-eyed human has too much interest in us," the demon-woman said. "His impertinence galls me."
"Yeah, I used to get that from Giles a lot," he said, as Spike brushed her out of his way. Less than six feet away from somebody who was supposed to be dead - well, more dead - Xander fell back into the old school Sunnydale standard of blasé acceptance. "So. You're back."
"Seem to be." Blue was opening her mouth to speak again, but Spike turned long enough to snap, "Illyria, will you just shut up for a minute? Go downstairs, have a chat to the aspidistras in the lobby."
She pursed her lips, but turned on her deadly-looking heels and left them alone.
"So," Xander said. "New dominatrix girlfriend, that's great. Also back from the dead, how's that working out for you? And since I've had more experience with occasionally evil twins than should be normal, are you really Spike?"
The possible Spike-a-like rolled his eyes. "Course I'm Spike, you nit."
"Yeah?" he challenged. "Tell me something only Spike would know."
"When I was tied up in your basement you used to wank off in the shower couple of times a day 'cause you wouldn't shag demon-girl with me there," he said. An elderly couple, passing them on the way to the stairs, gave them both horrified looks.
Nobody but Spike could be that annoying. "Okay, I'm convinced."
He expected more blinding sarcasm, but Spike's expression had turned serious. "Andrew… told me about her. How she died. Didn't deserve that. Anya was a decent bird. I liked her."
This was suddenly all too ridiculous. He was standing here in Egypt (land of De Nile, he thought, lots of material there) with a resurrected vampire who was trying to be Mr. Sensitive over his dead ex-girlfriend (and when was Anya coming back? Because Buffy's boyfriends, they never stayed away, even when they died). He laughed. It came up shaky and too high. "Yeah, I know. Liked her in the Biblical sense."
Spike frowned. "Hey, now…"
"No," he said, holding up his hands as if he could physically ward off this conversation. "Just - stay out of my way, Spike." That was the point where he was supposed to open his door and stride purposefully into the bedroom, not looking back, only he missed the handle. Fucking depth perception.
Spike leaned past him, opened the door, not meeting his eyes.
Once safely inside, Xander slammed it behind him with as much force as he could.
Two hours and ten fun-size bottles of some nasty Jack Daniels imitation later, the paranoia was starting to make him feel like a fourth-season episode of The X-Files. Spike had heard about Anya's death from Andrew. If Andrew knew Spike was back then probably eighty percent of the Council-covered world did by now, but Giles hadn't told him. Not even in the 'nothing important, just as a funny fact for Ripley's' way.
He was out on his room's small balcony, wedged on the floor with his back to the building wall and his feet braced on the lowest railing. It meant his knees were bent in a way that his back wouldn't thank him for in the morning, but it was a good way to think. When they were twelve Jesse had sworn that hanging upside down off the end of his bed helped him study better and, Willow's worries about strokes aside, he could see his point.
Okay, he had to think this through. No Will or Giles or stack of books, just his brain and too little booze. This was doable.
Forget the resurrection part. What was Spike even doing in Cairo? Same city as a slayer, a young, untrained, ripe for becoming William the Bloody's third time lucky slayer. Was that a coincidence? Did new-hair, back from the dust Spike even have the soul Buffy insisted was so important? And what about the blue-haired Son-of-Jor-El-Kneel-Before-Zod chick?
He lasted another hour and six more bottles, and then he decided he needed something stronger. Or at least bigger.
He hadn't spent a lot of time in bars since arriving in the city, but he knew what kind of places these were - rough, downmarket and strictly men only. Which would explain the empty tables all around Spike and Dru Junior, and the furious looks she was getting from the other patrons.
He hesitated. There were other bars, but he'd have to walk a couple of streets or hail a cab.
"I have modulated my form to appear more like these human insects, yet they still fail to show me respect," the demon was saying when Xander joined them with his drink. "If I had my powers…"
"Yeah, yeah, you'd crush 'em like ants." He looked up at Xander, his face wary but challenging. "'f you're looking for a fight we best take it outside. Been banned from too many places this week." He jerked his head at his companion. "Mostly her fault."
Her hair and eyes were brown, now, and she was wearing a cotton shirt and pants. She looked just like any other tourist. Neat trick. Anya would have loved it. "You have not told this one my name," she said in that precise, demanding, way too familiar way.
Spike sighed. "Fine. This is Illyria, former god-king and current pain in my ass. Illyria, this is Xander Harris, much the same without the god-king bit. Are we fighting or what?"
Xander pulled out one of the free chairs - judging the distance very carefully before he reached for it - and sat down without answering. "Just out of curiosity, how come you're not a god-queen? That a demon thing, or are you just a really big Elvis fan?"
"The gender of my current form is irrelevant," Illyria said coolly. "As I told the vermin who would restrict my movements, I am no more a female than I am a male."
"Hence the getting barred from pubs," Spike said.
Xander downed the whole of his drink in one swallow, grimacing at the taste. "So what are you doing in Cairo? Whistle-stop tour of the Pyramids? Romantic vacation on the Nile? Evil scheme to bring about the end of the world?" Illyria inclined her head in a way that was just a little too interested, he thought.
"Mind your own," Spike said. "Your round, by the way."
"Because if you've lost your soul or otherwise gone slithering back to the black hats," he went on, undeterred, "I can have a team here in a minute to take you down."
"Two of us could kill you in less than a minute - just an observation," Spike said, when Xander almost leapt out of his chair. "And y'know, this is exactly what I should've expected from you. You would think I was evil again. Fella dies to save the world and never gets any thanks for it."
"Thank you, Spike," he said, channelling his inner Cordelia, "I'm so impressed you stayed dead for a whole year."
"Nineteen days," Spike said, looked a little abashed before he pulled it back with, "and let's see you doing it next time."
"Maybe I will."
"I'll look forward to it."
"Webster was much possessed by death and saw the skull beneath the skin," Illyria said. She was staring at her hand, long fingers stretched out, and then she looked at Xander, her lips curling up a fraction.
He looked to Spike, who shrugged.
"Bought her a couple of books. Thought it'd keep her out of trouble a bit during the day. She doesn't sleep." He shook his head, bringing the glass back to his mouth: "Shoulda got her a Gameboy. The poetry was probably pushing her a bit too hard."
"You mock me."
"Thought you'd be used to it by now."
"Does Buffy know you're back?" Xander broke in, because he'd spent a week listening to these two scream at each other from a floor away, and the up close and personal version just wasn't appealing as a night's entertainment, even if he was cable-less.
Spike dropped a little lower in his chair, pulling the bottle of bourbon towards him. "She knows. Went to see her in Rome after the big fight. Figured she was best hearing it from me."
He'd always sucked at riddles. That thing about the guy who was talking being his own father? Made no sense. Out of his depth and sinking, Xander said, "Fight? Hearing what?"
"You don't know, do you?" Spike paused, and then reached over to pour a triple shot into Xander's glass. "Started last year, after Sunnydale…"
The bar closed at the part where Spike stopped being a ghost and he and Angel, for some reason that Xander wasn't clear on, fought over a cup of Mountain Dew. Spike said something about having alcohol in their room, and that was really all the invitation he needed, given how mellow he was feeling. Booze never did this to him. Maybe all the smoke in the bar had gone to his head. Smoking, he thought, stumbling on the step in front of the hotel, causes cancer, lung diseases and a weird sense of well-being towards vampires and gods…
Illyria had marched impatiently ahead and was waiting for them in the lobby, stroking a long leaf of one of the potted plants. She was blue again, and the leather was back.
"Anything?" Spike asked.
"Whispers," she said. "Echoes, as if of long-ago music in empty rooms. The Green was once so loud, here."
"Pretty sure Africa's controlled by the Grey these days," Xander said. "With the AIDS epidemic and everything."
Even Illyria looked surprised.
"What?" he said. "The Green is plant life, the Grey is spores and fungi. Basic Swamp Thing."
Spike muttered something about being surrounded by geeks and idiots, but Illyria looked as close to pleased as he'd seen her. "Yes," she said. "The Green and the Grey. I thought they had been forgotten. You would have made an adequate Qua'ah Zhaan."
"You two going to stand around chatting all night?" Spike demanded. "Got a story to finish. You need to hear the rest."
He focused on little things. How he knew that Fred, whoever she was, was going to die just by the way Spike said her name. How none of them sat down, even though the room had a bed and a couple of chairs. Illyria just took a corner and stayed there and Spike paced, and Xander froze in place at the words "turned out she'd never woken up" and didn't move again till the whole thing was said and the other two were watching him in silence.
How could they not have told him that? Not thinking to mention the battle, the apocalypse-with-a-capital-A that had killed Angel and Wesley and a bunch of people he'd never met, he got that. But not telling him Cordelia had died…
"I don't think Giles and the rest were ever told," Spike said. "Never thought to notify them. You." How about that? He actually looked and sounded ashamed. Maybe that shiny soul counted for something after all.
Xander shook the image of Cordelia, dying in her sleep, out of his head. The other deaths were less personal, easier to think about, and if that made him a heartless bastard then he was entitled. "How'd you two survive?"
Illyria said, "Even in this weakened form I retain some of my powers. The Wolf, Ram and Hart had ambition more than their might."
Spike said, "Dumb luck. Shockwave knocked us off the top of the building. Hell of a painful fall, but it put us out of range when the big one came down." His voice had been getting softer as he reached the end of the story. Now, he was almost talking to himself, his gaze downwards and fixed on nothing.
Xander let himself slide slowly down the wall. "We were split into pairs," he said. "Me and Dawn. Giles and Robin. Anya and Andrew. The last thing I ever said to her was 'don't be afraid to use him as a human shield'."
"Good advice," Spike mused.
"And after, I kept going over it. What if she'd been with me, what if she'd been with Giles. Would Dawn have died instead, or Andrew. It was like this sick game - who would I sacrifice?"
To his surprise, Illyria was sitting down too, wrapping her arms around her drawn-up knees. For a moment she looked like a real girl. "I was with Wesley when he died. He was in pain, and I did not have the words to ease his way. I drew on all of Winifred Burkle's memories, all that she was, and I still could not find them. I… regret that."
"Right cheerful bunch, we are," Spike said, joining the two of them on the floor.
"Tell the rest of it," Xander said. "Why are you here?"
"In Egypt?" Spike dropped his head back, resting it against the glass of the window that led out to the balcony. "Nothing better to do."
"My powers were ripped away," Illyria said. "I desired them back."
"Some of 'em, anyway. Not keen on the bit about you being all-powerful," Spike said. "Still got far too much of the god complex. Changing time, though. That could be handy."
"Changing time?" This had been mentioned during Spike's Year in Review, but he hadn't exactly been looking at details then. "Are we talking Wachowski brothers or Marty McFly?"
"Bit of A, bit of B," Spike said. Illyria just twitched her head in that way that he'd learned meant she was confused about something. "She can slow time down, jump around in it, probably make a balloon giraffe out of it if she wants. Or she could, back when she had her powers."
Power over time. When he'd tried to make a list of the cool superpowers to have, way back before he'd met his first genuine superhero in the form of the hot new girl with the pointy stick in her bookbag, time manipulation had been up there, joint second place with invisibility and x-ray vision. Flying had to be first, because nothing would be cooler than being able to fly.
Ten years later, he'd trade any and all fantastical superpowers for his eye back. And he'd trade both eyes for Anya.
But if Illyria could change the past - He thought about all the things she could make better, starting with Anya and working backwards. Screw continuity, screw temporal paradoxes. He got as far as Jenny Calendar before he accepted the inevitable. "But you can't get it back, can you?"
Her hair, just for a second, faded to brown and then back. "No," she said. "I came here looking for the ancient gods. I thought that so long as the sun was in the sky then Ra still existed, and that perhaps he could guide my path. But the necropolis at Giza is abandoned. The gods are gone from this place."
"We tried the Citadel tonight," Spike said. "Took a walk around the city, tried to see if any of them'd gone to ground somewhere. Nothing."
"The world is as it is," Illyria said. "And so it must remain."
Illyria left as the sky began to turn grey - she wanted to walk in the city, she said. Xander thought maybe she wanted a break from Spike. He still wasn't sure what their relationship was, except that the room only one bed. Spike had said, though, that she didn't sleep, so that didn't mean a lot.
Her hand on the door, she looked back at Xander. "This is the dream of her older sister, Who is stretched on the open grave of all the men she has known. Far down, something niggles. The stir of someone still alive. Then a cry, far down. It is your own." And she left.
"Blank verse," Spike said. "Lovely. Have her up to writing sestinas by the end of the week." He was sitting on the end of the bed shuffling a deck of cards. He'd shuffled them so many times now that Xander thought they were probably back to being ordered again. "I tried to teach her five card draw, but she doesn't see the point to it."
"Anya was the same. Her bluffing sucked worse than Willow's."
"I remember. Played cards with her the night of Buffy's party."
"God, the birthday that would not end." Not thinking too hard or too deeply about it he stood, stretching his cramped muscles, and sat down beside Spike on the bed. "That was actually one of the better years."
"Buffy told me. Said that was why she gave it a miss last year." He dealt a couple of cards off the top of the pack. Five of spades. Ten of hearts. Four of hearts.
"Stop there," Xander said, but he dealt a fourth card anyway. It was the two of diamonds.
"Twenty-one," Spike said.
"I've spent my share of time in casinos," he said. "You get a feel for these things."
It was surprisingly easy to picture Spike in Vegas. Maybe in a Casino Royale tux. Illyria, before she'd been Illyria, had been some kind of genius physicist. She could count the cards and Spike could look cool and rake in the chips.
"Is that what's next for you? Try for the big time in Atlantic city?"
He folded up the deck in a smooth snap and set it aside. "Illyria had worshippers in Belize. Pre-dated the Mayans. Might be something we can do there."
Xander opened his mouth to say something deep and wise, maybe about how there were only so many places in the world they could go to before they had to accept her powers were gone - and then he thought about the countries he'd been to, finding the slayers. How many more could there be before it would just be him in some empty apartment, having to accept that Anya was gone?
He lay back on the bed, suddenly exhausted in a way he couldn't ever remember being, not even after Glory, or right after the flight from Sunnydale. He closed his eye and when he felt Spike stretch out beside him, not touching, he was curiously unsurprised and unworried. It felt like he was somewhere not exactly in his body, both Xander Harris and somebody else. Had to be similar to life as Illyria, or as a vampire with a soul.
He reached for Spike's hand beside his own. Found it, and wrapped his fingers around it almost as a test. Not weird yet. He turned on his side. How about now? No, this was okay.
When he peeked, Spike's face was very close to his, and he was watching him closely.
Another litmus test for the crazy; he nudged himself down and Spike up enough that they could kiss somewhere in the middle without either of them moving too much. It wasn't as cold as he'd expected. Not as cold as the first and only time he'd kissed Jesse, the dorky and sweet and never-mentioned-again in the tent in his back yard, the hot summer day when they'd both been eating Popsicles that melted down their fingers, sticky where their hands clasped together.
Spike's hand moved onto his hip and Xander pushed forward, gently pressing his tongue against lips that slid easily apart.
Not weird, not at all.
"You could come with us," Spike suggested, sounding sleepy and as sex-addled as he looked. Xander had decided he was generally in favour of the hair. "Her Majesty'd love another follower."
"Like you're following her anywhere," he said, as sleepy himself, and he pulled the thin cover tighter around them. "She's following you."
"Don't tell her that."
So, so many reasons why he couldn't go with them, starting with the note he'd have to leave for Giles. "Sorry, can't find any more slayers. Going to other side of world to tilt at windmills with Spike and an ancient demon god." If Anya knew, she'd…
Try to compare notes on how Spike was in bed.
Tell him to bring her back something expensive.
Insist that she come along too.
Suggest a threesome, possibly a foursome.
Want him to be happy.
"Belize, huh?" he said.
He wondered if Anya would have liked it there.